People with diabetes can have an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy. This is when high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. These blood vessels can swell and leak. Or, they can close, stopping blood from passing through. Sometimes abnormal new blood vessles grow on the retina. All of the changes can steal your vision.
There are two main stages of diabetic eye disease. The first is NPDR or Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy. This is the early stage of diabetic eye disease. With NPDR, tiny blood vessels leak, making the retina swell. When the macula swells, it is called macular edema. This is the most common reason why people with diabetes lose their vision.
Also with NPDR, blood vessels in the retina can close off. This is called macular ischemia. When that happens, blood cannot reach the macula. Sometimes tiny particles called exudates can form in the retina. These can affect your vision.
PDR or Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy is the more advanced stage of diabetic eye disease. It happens when the retina starts growing new blood vessels, called neovascularization. These fragile new vessels often bleed into the vitreous. If they only bleed a little, you might see a few dark floaters. If they bleed a lot, it might block all vision. These new blood vessels can form scar tissue. Scar tissue can cause problems with the macula or lead to a detached retina.
PDR is very serious, and can steal both your central and peripheral vision.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic Retinopathy symptoms usually affect both eyes.
- Seeing an increasing number of floaters.
- Blurry vision.
- Vision that changes at times from blurry to clear.
- Seeing blank or dark areas in your field of vision.
- Poor night vision.
- Colors appear faded or washed out.
- Lost vision.
The photo on the left is a normal macula, compared to the photo on the right which has macular swelling, or edema.
Treatment Options for Diabetic Retinopthy
- Controlling your blood sugar through diet can help stop vision loss.
- Eye injections can reduce the swelling of the macula, slowing vision loss and possibly improving vision.
- Laser surgery is used to help seal off leaking blood vessels, reducing swelling of the retina.
- Vitrectomy surgery removes vitreous gel and blood from leaking vessels in the back of your eye.
How to Prevent Vision Loss from Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy may be found before you even notice any vision problems. The best way to prevent vision loss is regular eye examinations. If you experience any symptoms, get treatment as soon as possible.
Talk to your primary care doctor about controlling your blood sugar and see your ophthalmologist regularly for a dilated eye exam.
Do you have diabetes and need an exam for eyeglasses?
Changes in blood sugar levels can affect your vision. Make sure you blood sugar is under control for at least a week before an eye exam. Eyeglasses prescribed when your blood sugar levels are stable work best!
For more in-depth information on Diabetic Retinopathy, visit the Eye-Health section of the American Academy of Ophthalmology website at https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/diabetic-eye-disease.